The last time I performed was on March 14th. It was a musical improv comedy show, and I especially noted how much I spit all over the stage, without even meaning to. Oh, this is me all the time, I realized, suddenly horrified. In the green room after the show, my fellow improvisers praised my restraint. You didn't put your fingers in anybody's mouth tonight! they congratulated me.
Since then, I've been remembering, and reflecting on my not-so-distant performance past. It feels like forever ago.
I remember telling a guy to take off his wedding ring and put it in his mouth, and then I tongue-kissed him with his ring rolling around on our tongues.
I have put many people's fists all the way into my mouth. All the way.
I remember making a lady hock a glob of spit into her own hand and then I licked it off. I've probably done that more than once, but I just really remember this one lady's face when I did it to her. It was the most extreme combination of horror and delight I've ever seen.
I've been slapped a fair bit.
I remember several men well into their 70's that I deeply tongue kissed. At least several. Maybe 15.
I have touched so, so many people. Every show, touching people's faces, touching their hands, sitting on their laps, having them sit on mine.
I have licked many, many bald heads. I remember one particular bald head I licked in a crowded Spiegeltent, and it must've had cologne on it, because my mouth tasted of cologne for the rest of the night.
I have spat on hundreds, no, thousands of people. Thousands of people have received sprays of my saliva, all over themselves.
I have no idea how many strangers of all ages and genders that I have made out with, but it's a lot.
And all in front of paying audiences. Thank you so much.
For years, my show involved personal body fluids—mine and, when I was lucky, other people's.
Those shows, and so many other things, are over.
And today, I allow myself to feel sad about that.
I used to love spitting on people. I didn't do it on purpose, but Butt Kapinski has so many speech impediments that it's impossible for the character to say anything without spit leaving my mouth. And actually, it always seems like I have plenty of spit around, whether I'm speaking like Butt Kapinski or no.
But I liked it because so many of us, myself included, have felt so much shame around accidentally spitting, and it just felt so good to not give a fuck. And it always seemed that audiences appreciated that freedom more than they felt annoyed getting spit on them. I never remember seeing anyone look sad about the spit, actually. Was I delusional?
I also loved licking and making out with strangers. I liked it because audiences were thrilled by it: watching two strangers have an intimate experience together, watching the dance we did as we each figured out what the other person wanted. And the delicious surrender of all those strangers' tongues in my mouth! Those moments when the stranger and I were both like, fuck it, let's fucking make out like crazy in front of all these people. Those kisses were some of the wildest kisses I've ever had. They just felt like rainstorms, or like all the flags of the United Nations, flapping mightily together in the midst of the biggest hurricane of the world. It was a unified, wet, liberated flapping, and I'll never forget it.
At some point, maybe I'll figure out how to perform online and enjoy it. But right now, I'm in mourning, as so many clowns are, because it wasn't just that I used to perform in front of people. I used to perform on top of people, in and amongst people, against people, and with people. Their bodies and my bodies were constantly in negotiation with each other as I careened around a crowded theater. After shows, my thighs always had bruises from all the people's chairs I banged into, but I never felt any pain. I have built an entire career around performing togetherness and demonstrating a kind of spontaneous, liberated intimacy, and all of a sudden, it's totally over.
Naturally, I've wondered in the past, did I ever get anyone sick? I've only performed sick a handful of times. And I never felt like I got sick from people at my shows. But I never thought about it too deeply. I always thought all my gross audience-interaction habits probably helped strengthen my immune system. I didn't think about anybody's else's immune system, which seems crazy now.
But it's not like I ever took it for granted. Every audience member who entered into that freaky, sudden bargain with me, I cherished. I felt so much gratitude for those who felt, as I did, that there was nothing to lose and a lot to gain from spontaneous displays of physical intimacy between strangers. We felt like we were, together, modeling a way to be. Unafraid. Free. Those strangers were my collaborators, and I was lucky I had them. And I was lucky that it was happening, well, basically anytime but right now.
There's a lot to be sad about, but today I'm feeling especially sad because I loved all those weird intimate fluid exchanges with strangers, and I felt like they were artistically and spiritually important, and now, they're done, and it doesn't feel fair. It feels like the kind of performance that was the most risky, the most vulnerable, is the one that will be punished the most and the longest by this virus, maybe for a lot longer than other kinds of performances. To be sure, sanitary-ass garbage- performance will be allowed again first, right? Oh yeah, fourth-wall bullshit is going to be let back into the fray first. And then maybe they'll let performers in who ask the audience rhetorical questions but don't expect answers. That sounds pretty safe too.
But what if my kind of performance recedes into history. What if what I do, and what I teach, is no longer allowed. Maybe they won't let me on stage anymore unless I can control my spitting and touching tendencies. They'll build that fourth wall up and say, get back JoJo. They'll wrap me in caution tape and station me way up in the upstage corner, alone, my own kind of post-quarantine quarantine. Just the freaky, out-of-date interactive performer, salivating on my own, just breathing and drooling and trying desperately to make eye contact and get someone to connect with me. Dangerous.
When the only fluid I ever felt full of was love.